Drink abuse is a mounting social evil. Its cost, in blighted lives, antisocial behaviour, medical and social care, is massive. The country has grown tired of earnest words but lack of action. Minimum pricing was to be the device by which the sale of cheap alcohol would be curbed. Medical opinion has been overwhelmingly in favour. But the drinks industry has fought a rearguard action.
Now comes a major challenge to the Scottish Government’s legislative ambitions – this time from the European Commission. It has declared officially that it “has a problem” with the government’s plans. Yesterday, it joined five EU countries in submitting legal questions centred on the threat to the movement of free goods across the continent.
Not for the first time, a Scottish administration is learning a hard truth about the realities of government and the aspiration of independence in an interdependent and interconnected world.
No country is an island. Its deeds and actions need to be compatible with broader inter-governmental treaties. We may not much care for this when it frustrates actions which the Scottish Government deems to be desirable and fired by the most worthy of motives. But then we would certainly not care for a move by an EU country that sought, for example, to discriminate against Scotch whisky.
The commission’s opinion on the proposed minimum pricing legislation relates to the compatibility of minimum pricing plans under European law and that the draft legislation may thus be incompatible with EU treaties. That may seem grossly frustrating, given the huge and rising cost of alcohol abuse across the country.
While there is no doubt that the Scottish Government seems confident of the legality of its plans, equally there seems little doubt that the five major wine-producing countries who think it does infringe current EU law will press their case.
The only certainty in all this is that the battle will drag on for years and at a considerable cost to the Scottish taxpayer.
Galling through it may be for this administration, particularly given it is right to try to tackle the scourge of alcohol in this way, perhaps a pragmatic retreat is in order. Scottish minimum pricing is not going to go anywhere soon, perhaps the Scottish Government should just wait until it sees what happens with David Cameron’s plans to introduce minimum pricing, which are under way.
Why embark on a long legal battle when there might a very much easier way to gain almost the same end. It is not as if anyone believes minimum pricing will be an instant fix to the problem. It will always take time for the benefits to filter through to the drinking culture.
Better to wait for Cameron’s legislation, even if it does leave a bad taste in the mouth and mean a possible loss of control.
Israel must hold back over Iran
ISRAELI prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised serious apprehension across the Middle East with a renewed warning last night of action against Iran. He said Iran would have enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb by next summer and urged the world to draw a clear “red line” to stop it in its tracks. It was, he said, getting “late, very late… nothing could imperil the world more than a nuclear-armed Iran”.
Concern has been mounting in Washington for weeks that Israel would launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran in the middle of the US presidential election. And it is growing nervousness about Israel’s intentions that has led to a rise in the world price of oil in recent weeks. Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly argued time is running out to stop the Islamic republic from becoming a nuclear power and the threat of force must be seriously considered.
The rationale for the timing is that neither of the US presidential contenders would be in a position to halt Israel, even
assuming they wished to do so, for fear of losing the Jewish vote.
But it is not just the US where concern is rising. Nobody doubts the legitimacy of Israel’s fears should Iran become a nuclear power, but this dangerous situation will not just impact on the Middle East and it is up to the rest of the world to also work at avoiding confrontation.
Whatever intelligence Israel may have about Iran’s nuclear capability, it would be utterly wrong for its leaders to mount a unilateral strike – an action that would almost certainly trigger a serious global conflagration.
It must be impressed upon
Israel that the wisest course of action is to work closely with the international community to exercise the maximum possible diplomatic leverage, rather than resorting to extreme action.